August 26, 2008
'Duk note: Over the weekend, Jeff Passan ran in the Hot Dog Derby at Kansas City's Kauffman Stadium, ensuring that all future hate mail can be addressed to 'Dear Wiener' and still be correctly labeled. He shares his experience and tips below.
So I'm standing in a hot-dog costume, getting booed by some guy I don't know, sweating like Tricky Dick Nixon, and as if the indignity can get no worse, it dawns on me that I just lost a footrace to two other men also wearing hot dog costumes.
You must understand, when you spend enough time in the press box at Kauffman Stadium watching the Kansas City Royals, the conversation tends to shift away from baseball and toward more important things, like the Hot Dog Derby. It is the most popular thing at Royals games, more so than the games themselves, and basking in the glory of 20,000 people cheering on giant running wieners seemed a rather exciting proposition.
The Royals were kind enough to invite me and two baseball-writing colleagues from the Kansas City Star, Sam Mellinger and David Boyce, to run the race Friday night. I would be Mustard, the true king of condiments, while Mellinger would be the
abhorrent necessary and delicious Relish and Boyce the workmanlike doesn't-belong-anywhere-near-a-dog Ketchup. (Note: Edits made by 'Duk) The Royals' generosity provided months' worth of spirited insults and the elation in knowing that wearing a gigantic phallic costume might allow me to meet a real furry.
Lesson No. 1: You will sign an awesome liability-release document
After the top of the fourth inning, we jogged through the Royals' bullpen and into the grounds-crew area, where three hot dog suits awaited. Before we put them on, a Royals employee handed us a waiver and a pen. The entire thing, though understandable, was patently ridiculous.
This part took the cake:
"I hereby release and hold harmless, on my own behalf and on the behalf of my heirs, the Kansas City Royals Baseball Corporation, the assigns, predecessors, successors, officers, directors, agents, representatives, employees, subsidiaries, sub-contractors, sponsors, shareholders, affiliates of the Royals, all Major League Baseball Entities, affiliates, member baseball clubs, Heinz from all actions, causes of actions, damages, liabilities and claims relating to and/or in connection with my participation in the Heinz Hot Dog Derby at Kauffman Stadium."
Heinz? Heirs? Huh?
Lesson No. 2: You get sort of nervous
There are all kinds of rules for the race. No running on the grass. No falling. No fighting. Seriously, could they take any more fun out of three adults running around in giant hot-dog costumes?
Once you accept the rules, you realize that you're about to wear a 6-foot-tall hot dog and run the 100-meter dash. I've seen guys face plant. It's embarrassing. Please, all that's good in the name of Oscar Mayer, do not let me fall.
Lesson No. 3: Running in a hot dog costume is difficult. The costume itself is plenty more than the enormous dog and bun. First comes the skin-hugging yellow shirt. Then tight yellow sweatpants. And yellow shoes that would be loose on Ronald McDonald. Followed by four-fingered gloves. Topped off with a hot dog scratches your chin.
Lesson No. 4: The hot dog smells like hot garbage. If Sex Panther were real, it would smell like the hot dog costume.
Lesson No. 5: Tie — err, Velcro — your shoes tight. The Royals employees told us to use the Velcro straps and make sure the shoes were snug, because they have a tendency to fall off. This, as we learned later, is absolutely true.
Lesson No. 6: Get in shape. Actually, this is a bit of a conundrum. You can work out all you want, but unless you simulate the bouncing of a huge prop on your head while you're doing it, it's going to go for naught.
I'm in the best shape of my life, and over the first half of the race, I felt good. Got off to a strong start. Held the lead. Even though I started to fade toward the end, a good push could have gotten me close.
But then two things happened ...
Lesson No. 7: Morons hold camcorders during the Hot Dog Derby. I thought it would be fun to videotape the actual race, so I strapped my camcorder to the final two fingers on my right hand. When I realized I was still in first, I paused to lift the camcorder and show the finish line. And right there, David in his Ketchup costume zoomed past me and Relish Sam did the same. I had celebrated early. I felt like Usain Bolt in the 100 — only slow, awful and wearing a hot dog instead of acting like one.
Lesson No. 8: Sam Mellinger is a dirty, dirty cheater. Basically, this was the worst thing to happen on the first-base line at Kauffman Stadium since Don Denkinger blew his call in the '85 World Series.
Right after David passed me on the straightaway, you'll notice in this grainy, Zapruder-like footage shot by my sister that Sam actively kicks off his shoes. And watch the kick he gets going barefoot before breaking the finish-line tape.
It is indisputable. Mellinger, who glosses over the whole incident on his blog, is a royal cheater. He even appeared on Fox Sports Net to relish Relish's victory and tried to rationalize it.
Thankfully, Royals announcer Ryan Lefebvre cried foul, and no less an authority than Sluggerrr, the Royals' mascot, said it was obvious that Sam had kicked off the shoes. Then Sluggerrr, the child-friendly mascot, praised him for cheating.
Lesson No. 9: Fans take their Hot Dog Derby seriously. As seen in the first video, an entire group in the front row unleashed boos on Mustard. What could I say? Mellinger cheated. But Boyce is 43, and he went all Chestnut on me. It was a shameful performance. I gagged.
Lesson No. 10: Baby girls know the real winner. At least I have one fan.
Lesson No. 11: Do not bring your wife and son. I say one because when I arrived back at my seats, I was summarily booed by my wife. And my son was gone. When I asked where he went, my dear, sweet bride replied:
"He ran away in shame."
Eventually he returned from the gift shop with a new stuffed monkey in hand, and he gave me a hug. Probably out of pity. My sister came bearing a gift as well: a stuffed Mustard doll. It was a kind gesture. And an absolutely apropos one, too, symbolism being what it is: Mustard was coming apart at the seams, literally, the sewn-on line of mustard falling off. It was that kind of night.
Lesson No. 12: If you are racing on a baseball field in a hot-dog costume, make sure it's against one of the Molina brothers. Because even if they're not as slow as they look, you'll have a guaranteed win when they try to eat the costume.
A big BLS head nod goes to Jeff for sharing his tale of defeat.